Big cat ownership should be regulated

I did a double-take last week when I read that there are more tigers in captivity in Texas than in wild worldwide.

I’ve never seen an instance where an individual’s keeping exotic animals is a good idea. I do not understand the appeal and believe there should be strict laws prohibiting that ownership.

After I graduated college I took a job as a meter reader for a rural electric company in Oklahoma. This was before they could digitally read meters, so we had to read every meter and key in the reading. On our sheets there were little notes like “The lock combination is 3-17-22,” or “Beware of dog,” or “These people cook drugs so make a lot of noise,” etc.

I was reading someone else’s route one day and came to the next place, a “wildlife refuge” — when I flipped to my meter notes it said “Caution, lion chained to power pole.” It was the most gaunt, sad beast I’d ever seen – we stared at each other for about five minutes before I decided I wasn’t reading that meter. I used binoculars and guessed at the numbers. I later learned that old tame lion was put down after it ripped a woman’s arm off.

The hardest interview I’ve ever done occurred when I was at a newspaper in Kansas. They had this “animal refuge” outside of town with Siberian Tigers. They would advertise at the schools for kids to take their senior pictures with these “docile” tigers.

A pretty 17-year-old girl had wanted to have her picture taken with a cub – it was unavailable so they had her pose with an adult tiger. It licked her foot, she screamed, it bit her neck clean through. The girl’s mother came in my office to talk about it. I still have a hard time thinking about trying to have a conversation with her — she handled it much better than I did.

It made a lasting impression on me: wild animals are not pets and their ownership must be regulated.

Five states — Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin — allow the private possession of big cats with no oversight. That needs to change.

In Texas, the ownership of these animals is allowed by permit which can be applied for at the county sheriff’s office, with no inspection for safety required.

Texas needs to beef up that law to provide for inspections for safety and animal condition or ban the practice outright. That’s my two cents.

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About walkereditor

I am a writer, editor and farmer living in Texas. I have two decades of experience as a daily newspaper editor and reporter. I've covered college football and basketball for CBS Sports, and worked at daily newspapers in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
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